An 8 million year record of subtropical and midlatitude shelf-sea temperatures, derived from oxygen isotopes of well-preserved brachiopods from a variety of European sections, demonstrates a long-term Cenomanian temperature rise (16–20°C, midlatitudes) that reached its maximum early in the late Turonian (23°C, midlatitudes). Superimposed on the long-term trend, shelf-sea temperatures vary at shorter timescales in relation to global carbon cycle perturbations. In the mid-Cenomanian and the late Turonian, two minor shelf-sea cooling events (2–3°C) coincide with carbon cycle perturbations and times of high-amplitude sea level falls. Although this evidence supports the hypothesis of potential glacioeustatic effects on Cretaceous sea level, the occurrence of minimum shelf-sea temperatures within transgressive beds argues for regional changes in shelf-sea circulation as the most plausible mechanism. The major carbon cycle event in the latest Cenomanian (oceanic anoxic event 2) is accompanied by a substantial increase in shelf-sea temperatures (4–5°C) that occurred ∼150 kyr after the commencement of the δ13C excursion and is related to the spread of oceanic conditions in western European shelf-sea basins. Our oxygen isotope record and published δ18O data of pristinely preserved foraminifera allow the consideration of North Atlantic surface water properties in the Cenomanian along a transect from the tropics to the midlatitudes. On the basis of fossil-derived δ18O, estimated δw ranges, and modeled salinities, temperature-salinity-density ranges were estimated for tropical, subtropical, and midlatitude surface waters. Accordingly, the Cenomanian temperate shelf-seas waters have potentially the highest surface water density and could have contributed to North Atlantic intermediate to deep waters in the preopening stage of the equatorial Atlantic gateway.